How We Met: Pete Fowler & Gruff Rhys
'I did a toy figure based on Gruff as an older man with an allotment. I put him in a tank top'
Sunday 12 April 2009
Gruff Rhys, 38, is a Welsh musician and member of the rock band Super Furry Animals. Raised in north Wales, he now lives in Cardiff and London with his partner and daughter
It must have been back in about 1996 when a friend of mine showed me some photos of these murals painted by a man called Pete Fowler. They were amazing. It coincided with the end of a tour of Japan I had done. I had been immersed in Japanese imagery and when I saw Pete's work, it was like a eureka moment.
Pete's a great observer of popular culture. Back then he was into the skateboarding and BMX scenes, as well as music, whereas I had a more rural way of thinking, a hick from north Wales who'd moved to Cardiff to make my fortune or something. Pete's work was full of imagery from contemporary life in glorious Technicolor. This was the Britpop era, when a conservative mentality evoking some idea of 1960s London life prevailed. Pete's work was the opposite – an internationalist vision of the future.
As much as our music inspires him, Pete's artwork inspires us. The images he created for our Radiator album, which was our first collaboration, included loads of references to technology. The mobile phone was a motif in his work and, as a result, became a central theme for our album Guerrilla. It's not just his art – Pete and his brother, Chris, have an incredible knowledge of 1960s and 1970s rock and folk. The music we've listened to through them has had a great influence on what we do.
His Monsterism [ongoing narrative cartoon project] is incredible, too. He made a toy based on me called Grylph. I'm looking forward to more Monsterism – I'd love to be able to completely enter that world. It would make a great theme park.
We've worked with many artists over the years and a lot have come through Pete. For our latest album, Dark Days/Light Years, we worked with a great Japanese pop artist called Keiichi Tanaami. He wanted to work with us because he knew about Pete's Monsterism work and wanted to work with him.
I've spent most of the past 13 years on tour, which makes friendships difficult, and a lot of my communication with Pete is by email or fax when we're working. When we do get the chance to meet, it's usually something musical – a gig or an incredible night Pete runs with his friends every year. It specialises in mind-melting, cosmic folk.
Working with a band is insane, because effectively you've got several clients with different ideas. Dealing with us is like taking on a five-headed beast and to balance those demands, you need a person with incredible patience and enthusiasm for what he does. Pete has that and it's infectious.
Pete Fowler, 40, is, in his words, "an illustrator, painter, scribbler, toy creator, knob twiddler and Scrabble enthusiast". Best known for his artwork for the Super Furry Animals, he is also behind the world of "Monsterism". He lives in east London "with two stuffed owls"
I was a big fan of the Super Furry Animals before I met Gruff. At about the time I bought their first album, I had moved to London from Cornwall, for work. I was scraping by, often doing work for nothing to get myself out there. Then, just as I was looking to get my teeth into a project, I got a call from Creation Records asking me to bring my book in for the Animals. I was jumping up and down. It must have been about 14 years ago now, but I think it's almost inevitable that we would have met sooner or later. As we got to know each other, it turned out we share similar attitudes and tastes in music.
I'm more interested in sounds than visual influences – I don't go to galleries or check out other illustrators' work. The work I was doing for the Animals was exactly the kind of stuff I loved doing and it was just amazing to see it up on posters and billboards. To a degree, it also helped to create the visual identity of the band.
There's no set way to how I work. Music affects the art in different ways. One thing I do have is a kind of synaesthesia – sound affects the colours I use.
I must have done about seven albums now. It's a challenge to come up with something new each time. The first album was painted, the second used sculpture and I've since become familiar with using computer techniques. For the last album, I collaborated with the legendary Japanese illustrator Keiichi Tanaami. It's been fantastic, and the packshot is just a taste of what we've done. It's been the most intense work I've done – I've exchanged tonnes of emails with Gruff and the boys every day.
I've used Monsterism in some of the Animals covers but generally I like to keep it separate. I did do a toy figure called Grylph, which was modelled on Gruff as an older man with an allotment. I emphasised the hair, beard and put him in a tank top. I think Gruff likes it.
Gruff travels a lot and has a daughter now, so I don't see him as much as I used to, but when we're not emailing each other about covers or working professionally, sometimes it's just nice to get together as friends – there's nothing that beats just playing records and getting a curry.
'Dark Days/Light Years' is out now on Rough Trade. Monsters Inked: Inside the Minds of The Gods of Monsters is at the Idea Generation Gallery, London E2 (www.ideageneration.co.uk), until 4 May
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